The Children of Húrin

The Children of Húrin is an epic high fantasy novel which forms the completion of a tale by J. R. R. Tolkien. He wrote the original version of the story in late 1910s, revised it several times later, but did not complete it before his death in 1973. His son, Christopher Tolkien, edited the manuscripts to form a consistent narrative, and published it in 2007 as an independent work.


The Children of Húrin was published on 17 April 2007, by HarperCollins in the United Kingdom and Canada, and by Houghton Mifflin in the United States. Alan Lee, illustrator of other fantasy works by J. R. R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) created the jacket painting, as well as the illustrations within the book. Christopher Tolkien also included an excursus on the evolution of the tale, several genealogical tables, and a redrawn map of Beleriand.

The story of The Children of Húrin takes place in an imaginary time of our world's history, the First Age of Middle-earth. J. R. R. Tolkien wrote that the setting is intended to be our Earth several thousand years ago, although the geographical and historical correspondence with the real world is tenuous. The lands of Middle-earth were populated by Men and other humanoid races: Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs, as well as divine beings, Maiar and Valar. The story centres on a Man of the House of Hador, Túrin Turambar, and his sister Nienor Níniel, who are cursed along with their father Húrin by the Dark Lord Morgoth. The events take place more than 6,500 years before the War of the Ring.

The Children of Húrin takes the reader back to a time long before The Lord of the Rings, in an area of Middle-earth that was to be drowned before Hobbits appeared, and when the great enemy was still the fallen Vala, Morgoth, and Sauron was only Morgoth's lieutenant. This heroic romance is the tale of the Man, Húrin, who dared to defy Morgoth, and his family's tragic destiny, as it follows his son Túrin Turambar's travels through the lost world of Beleriand...|20px|20px|— The Tolkien Estate


The history and descent of the main characters are given as the leading paragraphs of the book, and the back story is elaborated upon in The Silmarillion. It begins five hundred years before the action of the book, when Morgoth, an incarnated immortal spiritual being possessed of great supernatural abilities and the prime evil power, escaped from the Blessed Realm of Valinor to the north-west of Middle-earth. From his fortress of Angband he endeavoured to gain control of the whole of Middle-earth, unleashing a war with the Elves that dwelt in the land of Beleriand to the south.

However, the Elves managed to stay his assault, and most of their realms remained unconquered; the most powerful of these was Doriath, ruled by Thingol Greycloak. In addition, after some time the Noldorin Elves forsook Valinor and followed Morgoth to Middle-earth in order to take vengeance upon him. Together with the Sindar of Beleriand, they proceeded to lay a siege to Angband, and established new strongholds and realms in Middle-earth, including Dor-lómin ruled by Fingon, Nargothrond by Finrod Felagund and Gondolin by Turgon.

When three centuries had passed, the first Men appeared in Beleriand. These were the Edain, descendants of those Men who had rebelled against the rule of Morgoth's servants and journeyed westward. Most of the Elves welcomed them, and they were given fiefs throughout Beleriand. The House of Bëor ruled over the land of Ladros, the Folk of Haleth retreated to the forest of Brethil, and the lordship of Dor-lómin was granted to the House of Hador. Later other Men entered Beleriand, the Easterlings, many of which were in secret league with Morgoth.

Eventually Morgoth managed to break the Siege of Angband in the Battle of Sudden Flame. The House of Bëor was destroyed, and the Elves and Edain suffered heavy losses; however, many realms were yet unconquered, including Dor-lómin, where the lordship had passed to Húrin Thalion.


The story begins with the coming of Húrin and his brother Huor to the hidden city of Gondolin. Whereupon dwelling there for a year, they swore an oath not to reveal its location to any beings and were permitted swift passage to Dor-lómin. Therein Húrin married Morwen Edhelwen, and two children were born unto them, a son Túrin and a fair maiden daughter Lalaith. The book continues with the story of Túrin's upraising, Lalaith's early death and Húrin's departure to war.

In the disastrous defeat of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears Húrin was captured alive. Morgoth personally tormented him, trying to force from him the location of Gondolin, but despite his efforts, Húrin defied and even scorned Morgoth. For this, Morgoth placed a curse on him and his family whereby evil things would befall them.

At Morgoth's command the allied Easterlings overran Hithlum and Dor-lómin. Morwen, fearing her son's capture, sent Túrin to the realm of Doriath for safety. Shortly afterwards, Morwen gave birth to a second daughter, Nienor. In Doriath, Túrin was taken as foster-son by King Thingol and became a mighty warrior, befriending Beleg Strongbow as one of the march-wardens. However, after several years Túrin accidentally caused the death of one of Thingol's advisers, an elf Saeros, who had harassed Túrin earlier. Believing himself to be a criminal in the eyes of Thingol, Túrin fled Doriath and entered the wilderness.

Túrin joined a band of outlaws, the Gaurwaith, and soon became their leader. Meanwhile, Thingol learned of the circumstances of Saeros's death and pardoned Túrin for the act, sending the Elf Beleg out to search for him. After a year, he succeeded in tracking down the band, and after being briefly tortured by the lawless gang in Túrin's absence, was set free and was able to deliver to Turin the message of the king's pardon. However Túrin refused to return to Doriath. Beleg then departed in order to participate in battles upon the north-marches of Doriath.

Some time after Túrin and his men captured Mîm the Petty-dwarf, who ransomed his life by leading the band to the caves in the hill of Amon Rûdh where he made his home. The outlaws entrenched themselves in the caves, and soon Beleg returned and joined them. The band gradually became more daring and successful in their warfare against Morgoth's troops, and Túrin and Beleg even established the realm of Dor-Cúarthol. However, after a couple of years Mîm, because he hated the Elves and was jealous by the attention Túrin paid to Beleg, betrayed the outlaws, revealing the band's headquarters to Morgoth's forces. The outlaws were overrun, Túrin was captured, but Beleg escaped.

Beleg followed the company of Orcs, meeting a mutilated elf, Gwindor of Nargothrond, along the way. They found Túrin sleeping and released him from his bonds, but Túrin, thinking that an Orc had come to torment him, slew Beleg before realising his tragic error. Gwindor led Túrin to Eithel Sirion, where Túrin regained his senses, and later to Nargothrond. There Túrin gained favour with King Orodreth and earned the love of his daughter Finduilas. After leading the Elves to considerable victories, he became the chief counsellor of Orodreth and virtually commander of all the forces in Nargothrond.

Messengers send from Círdan warned Túrin to hide Nargothrond from Morgoth, but Túrin believed that Nargothrond was strong enough to withstand assault. However, after five years Morgoth sent a great force of Orcs under the command of a dragon Glaurung and defeated the army of Nargothrond on the field of Tumhalad, where both Gwindor and Orodreth were killed. Morgoth's forces sacked Nargothrond and captured its populace, and in an attempt to prevent this, Túrin encountered Glaurung. The dragon enchanted and tricked him into returning to Dor-lómin to seek out his mother and sister instead of rescuing Finduilas and other prisoners, what, according to the last words of Gwindor, was the only way to avoid his doom.

When Túrin returned to Dor-lómin, he learned that Morwen and Nienor had already fled for Doriath. In a rage Túrin incited a fight and had to flee once more. He tracked Finduilas's captors to the forest of Brethil, only to learn that she had been murdered by the orcs when the woodmen had attempted to rescue her. Almost broken by his grief, Túrin sought sanctuary among the Folk of Haleth, who maintained a tenacious resistance against the forces of Morgoth. In Brethil Túrin renamed himself Turambar, or "Master of Doom" in High-elven, and gradually overruled the Chieftain Brandir.

Meanwhile Morwen and Nienor heard rumours of Túrin's deeds at Nargothrond and attempted to find him. They were attacked by Glaurung, who enchanted Nienor so that she forgot everything, while Morwen was lost. Eventually Nienor reached Brethil, where she was met by Turambar, who had never seen her; not realising their kinship, they fell in love and married, despite the counsels of Brandir.

After some time Glaurung came to exterminate the Men of Brethil, but Turambar killed the dragon by stabbing him from beneath while he was crossing the ravine of Cabed-en-Aras. However, as Turambar pulled out his sword, Glaurung's poisonous blood scorched his hand, knocking him unconscious. The pregnant Nienor found Turambar lying unconscious, and the dying Glaurung returned memory to her. Realising in horror that her husband was also her brother, she threw herself off the nearby cliff into the river Taeglin, and was washed away. When Turambar woke and heard from Brandir that Nienor was dead, he killed him in wrath, believing that Brandir had lied in envy at Nienor's love and fearing the fulfilment of his own doom. However, after Túrin had learned all the truth from Mablung, he threw himself upon his sword Gurthang.

The main part of the narrative ends with the burial of Túrin. Appended to this is an extract from The Wanderings of Húrin, the next tale of Tolkien's legendarium. This recounts how Húrin was at last released by Morgoth and came to the mound of his children. There he found Morwen, who had also managed to find the place, but now died in the arms of her husband with the following sunset.

Concept and creation


Túrin's resemblance to figures from medieval tales can be confirmed by a letter which Tolkien wrote to Milton Waldman, a publisher from HarperCollins, concerning the fate of his works:

There is the Children of Húrin, the tragic tale of Túrin Turambar and his sister Níniel – of which Túrin is the hero: a figure that might be said (by people who like that sort of thing, though it is not very useful) to be derived from elements in Sigurd the Volsung, Oedipus, and the Finnish Kullervo.

The story is mainly based on the legend of Kullervo, a character from the Finnish folklore poems known as Kalevala. Túrin also resembles Sigmund, the father of Sigurd in the Volsunga saga, in the incestuous relationship he had with his sister. In Richard Wagner's opera, Die Walküre (also drawn in part from the Volsung myths), Siegmund and Sieglinde are parallels of Túrin and Nienor. Túrin further resembles Sigurd himself, as both achieve great renown for the slaying of a dragon of immense power and magic.


A brief version of the story formed the base of chapter XXI of The Silmarillion, setting the tale in the context of the wars of Beleriand. Although based on the same texts used to complete the new book, the Silmarillion account leaves out the greater part of the tale. The Silmarillion also includes the essay Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, which tells the story of The Lord of the Rings in a much-compressed form and from an Elvish point of view, which could serve as a basis for comparison.

Other incomplete versions have been published in other works:

None of these writings forms a complete and mature narrative. The published Children of Húrin is a synthesis of these sources, and other texts not previously published.

Editorial Process

With the publication of The Children of Húrin, Christopher Tolkien quotes his father's own words on his fictional universe:

"once upon a time... I had in mind to make a body of more or less connected legend... I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched.
Christopher Tolkien gives this apology for his excercise of his authorized editorial function to produce this work of his father:
" has seemed to me that there was a good case for presenting my father's long version of the legend of the Children of Húrin as an independent work, between its own covers, with a minimum of editorial presence, and above all in continuous narrative without gaps or interruptions, if this could be done without distortion or invention, despite the unfinished state in which he left parts of it.
Ethan Gilsdorf reviewing The Children of Húrin wrote of the editorial function: 
"Of almost equal interest is Christopher Tolkien's task editing his father's abandoned projects. In his appendix, he explains his editorial process this way: "While I have had to introduce bridging passages here and there in the piecing together of different drafts, there is no element of extraneous 'invention' of any kind, however slight." He was criticized for having monkeyed with his father's text when putting "The Silmarillion" together. This pre-emptive strike must be meant to allay the fears of Tolkien's most persnickety readers.


The initial reviews following the publication of The Children of Húrin were mostly positive. Likening it to a Greek tragedy, The Washington Post called it "a bleak, darkly beautiful tale" which "possesses the mythic resonance and grim sense of inexorable fate. A positive review was carried by The Independent (UK) ("dry, mad, humourless, hard-going and completely brilliant"). Bryan Appleyard of The Sunday Times (UK) set The Children of Húrin above other writings of Tolkien, noting its "intense and very grown-up manner" and "a real feeling of high seriousness". Maurice Chittenden of The Sunday Times, said that "it may merit an X-certificate" due to the amount of violent deaths.

The book got negative reviews from the Detroit Free Press ("dull and unfinished"), Entertainment Weekly ("awkward and immature", "impenetrable forest of names ... overstuffed with strangled syntax"), and The Guardian ("a derivative Wagnerian hero ... on a quasi-symbolic quest").

Other critics differentiated the public. Tom Deveson of The Sunday Times said that "although JRR Tolkien aficionados will be thrilled, others will find The Children of Hurin barely readable". Kelly Grovier from The Observer, on the other hand, stated that it "will please all but the most puritanical of his fans", referring to the scepticism about Christopher Tolkien's involvement. Jeremy Marshall of The Times generally echoed: "It is worthy of a readership beyond Tolkien devotees," although he thought it was flawed ("occasionally the prose is too stilted, the dialogue too portentous, the unexplained names too opaque"). He also presupposed that "in The Children of Húrin we could at last have the successor to The Lord of the Rings that was so earnestly and hopelessly sought by Tolkien’s publishers in the late 1950s.

The Children of Húrin debuted at number one on The New York Times Hardcover Fiction Best Seller list.

According to Houghton Mifflin, the US publisher, already 900,000 copies were in print worldwide in the first two weeks, double the initial expectations of the publishers. Harper Collins, the UK publisher, said 330,000 copies were in print in the UK in the first two weeks.


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